Counties across Utah are getting more than $36 million from the federal government this year under the Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILT program. The money is meant to help counties provide services such as search and rescue and firefighting in areas where there's a lot of federal land.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters that the payments to rural communities across the country will be $393 million this year, an $18 million or 4.5% increase. But he challenged the idea expressed by Congressman Rob Bishop and others that PILT payments wouldn't be necessary if the states controlled the land.
"Whether it's Zion National Park or Arches or all of the oil and gas development or other mineral development that takes place, " Salazar said in a conference call," It contributes in huge ways to the economy of the state of Utah. So I just think they're wrongheaded in their criticism."
Congressman Bishop responded by saying Utah would be a lot better off if it could tax those lands instead of just depending on government handouts."PILT payments have always been a fraction of the value that could be generated by states," Bishop told KUER. "And it's reflected in our inability of adequately funding education."
Bishop did have one good thing to say about the way the Obama administration has handled the PILT program this year. He said the money is going out on time this year and that's very helpful to the counties.